Polar Blasts and Dissertation Fellowships

By Edo Steinberg

This year, Telecom achieved something quite remarkable. Two Ph.D. candidates won dissertation fellowships from the College of Arts and Sciences. Nic Matthews won a $20,000 Dissertation Year Research Fellowship (see post below) and Lindsay Ems won a $25,000 Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

Lindsay says that familiarity with the process of applying for a fellowship is very important. “The process started for me with conversations with Harmeet, who is my advisor. I started sending him paragraphs and he would say ‘you need to dig deeper’ or ‘what do you mean by X, Y or Z,’ and then we distilled the essence of the dissertation.”

“Eventually, you submit everything to the department,” Lindsay says. “The selection committee ranks everybody’s proposals and then they send them on to the College. The College has its own selection process.”

“It says a lot to me about the department,” Lindsay says about the fact that two students won awards this year. “I wouldn’t have gotten this had Harmeet not been so active in helping me write my essay. Also, Andrew Weaver and David Waterman, who served on the selection committee, provided comments and feedback on the essay. This would be impossible without the departmental support.”

Writing the 500 word application essay about her research was an interesting exercise for Lindsay. You need to say what your dissertation is about, why it’s important, how you can do it, and prove you are capable of accomplishing it. “It served two purposes. It helped me clarify my own thoughts on my dissertation topic, but it also helped me write it so other people could understand. That’s probably the most important part of applying for this.”

Since the people reading fellowship applications come from all fields in the College, you should not assume judges are familiar with your area of study. “You have to make sure you don’t lose yourself in your topic. It has to be accessible to people who have no idea what your field, background or methodologies are.”

Keeping your writing accessible isn’t just important for fellowship applications. “This is very helpful for Ph.D. students like us to keep in mind when we’re writing our dissertations,” Lindsay says. “I think the exercise of writing the application essay is very useful for everybody, even if you’re not applying for the fellowship. If you’re trying to distill your dissertation idea, or any thesis idea, it’s good practice.”

Lindsay will use the fellowship to start analyzing and writing up her research. She spent the winter doing fieldwork with the Amish in Indiana, studying their use of communication technology. Other than the usual barriers to interacting with a population uninterested in contact with the outside world, the harsh weather put up additional obstacles. “Driving around through the Polar Vortex was also a challenge to gaining access,” Lindsay laughs. “Once, an Amish lady had to push my car out of the snowbank. On a different occasion, my car battery died because it was so cold and I had an Amish man jumpstart my car with a skid loader, which is like a forklift.”

Lindsay will present her latest research on March 28 at T600. Should be interesting!

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